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Craving Chocolate? Take a Walk Instead

Study Shows a Brisk Walk May Help Curb Chocolate Cravings
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 14, 2008 -- Chocolate has a special allure for many of us, bordering on the addictive. But a new study shows that taking a brisk walk can cut down the urge to eat chocolate -- and may help curb cravings that can derail weight loss efforts.

When it comes to cravings, chocolate is the most common and "intensely" craved food, according to background information presented with the study findings.

Researchers wanted to look at what goes into an intense craving and how one might break it.

Adrian Taylor and Anita Oliver of the University of Exeter gathered 25 people whom they describe as "regular chocolate eaters" -- those who ate at least two 50-gram bars of chocolate a day.

The chocolate-eaters were deprived of their favorite sweet for three days; they were also told not to exercise or have caffeine for two hours before the test period. Abstaining from chocolate, being under stress, and then exposing someone to chocolate has been shown to ignite cravings for chocolate.

Blood pressure and heart rate were monitored; participants also completed a food-craving questionnaire.

On separate days, one group of participants took a brisk 15-minute walk on a treadmill. They were told to walk as if they were catching a bus, but not until they were out of breath. The comparison group sat quietly for 15 minutes.

After walking or doing nothing, each participant took a computerized test (the stressor) and unwrapped and handled a chocolate bar -- but they were not allowed to eat it.

Researchers found that the group that exercised had a significant reduction in chocolate cravings when compared to their baseline.

Taking a brisk walk also eased blood pressure readings for participants after the mental-challenge test and handling the unwrapped chocolate. Being sedentary did not appear to lessen cravings.

Facts About Food Cravings

In their study, the researchers also provided this background information about food cravings:

  • Up to 97% of women and 68% of men experience food cravings.
  • Cravings are usually for dense, calorie-packed foods.
  • Food cravings often come before a bout of unhealthy eating.

In an introduction to the study, the researchers write that food cravings have been known to be responsible for throwing people off track when they are in treatment programs to lose weight or to recover from an eating disorder.

The researchers hope the findings can help shed light on how to interrupt cravings, since past research has shown that even tiny changes in how much people eat and small increases in exercise can be helpful in keeping weight off and creating good health habits.

The study appears in the latest issue of the journal Appetite.

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